Sanal Sasidharan at KNIFF 2018

Film critic, documentary filmmaker and writer, CS Venkiteswaran hosted the first coffee chat session at the Kazhcha-Niv Film Festival 2018 in his Trivandrum home where filmmakers discussed the state of film criticism in India and thought through modes of exhibition wherein independent filmmakers could reach out to a wider audience.

Venkiteswaran spoke about the way in which the discipline of film studies, which largely concentrates on the analysis of films, had divorced films from the conversations that would take place with the writers and directors of films and the local people.

“Now you have reviews in newspapers and the academics, nothing in-between. Filmmakers are at a loss because of this,” he said, pointing out that there is an absence of writing in the current scenario that locates the film in its context and within the larger history of cinema.

Talking about film criticism in the 1970s, script writer Sanjay Wadhwa said, “There were people like [François] Truffaut writing about cinema, so filmmakers were the ones writing,” to which filmmaker Sangeeta Datta added that at the time there was also a sense of community, something that went beyond an individual’s work, which enabled a certain engagement with cinema of the times.

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Highlighting the need for a nuanced understanding and writing on cinema, filmmaker Sanal Sasidharan said, “When the audience is watching films, we cannot say that they are really understanding the nuances of the film. It is equally important to understand the subtle points that the film is trying to make. Maybe a film has some problems with respect to acting, some technical problems, so the common audience will look at that, but a critic has an eye and knows what the filmmaker is trying to conve. So we need to have these connections between filmmakers and critics.”

The filmmakers also lamented the lack of serious magazines on cinema and the ways in which certain journalists live tweet their reviews even before the completion of a film, in a bid to get the review out first.  

Wadhwa added, “A lot of film literature has now moved to video. Because of the digital space, a lot of people want to meet the filmmaker and do a video interview, so film literature has gone to a live conversation. So we should tap into that, if the current generation is accessing videos more, we should think of that aspect. At the end of the day, we want the film critic and the filmmaker to talk, whether through writing or video it doesn’t matter.”

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Sanal shared his unique idea of initiating a preview film festival where like-minded people would come together and share their ideas about a film, in a bid to offer genuine thoughts about a certain film. “We need two kinds of conversations — one is the critic talking to the audience and the other is the critic talking to the filmmaker. I benefitted from my conversations with Venkiteswaran. Those kinds of private conversations during the filmmaking process, also becomes part of the making process.”

Venkiteswaran also pointed out that in Kerala in the past 10 years, there have been more experimental and art films made than in the 1970s.

“In the 1970s we created new platforms, new interfaces between the audience and the new cinema — there were noon shows, campus screenings, alternate spaces — so it created a kind of sub-society of people. There was also a group of writers and critics creating discourses around what these films were trying to say, talking to the potential audience or youth so all this worked together. Now, you have filmmakers and you have films. You don’t have alternative spaces, television doesn’t take you and don’t pay you and there is no writing around them that says what these people are trying to say, to connect to the audience.”

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The discussants also pondered over new ways of reaching the audience and reaching out to them where Sanal shared his experience of travelling with his film in the Cinema Cab movement where scores of people came to watch the film.  

The coffee chat sessions at KNIFF 2018 have been conceptualized as a private interactive session between filmmakers and legendary Malayalam film personalities over a cup of coffee.